Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing… or is it?

Back in April, I decided to partecipate in a very interesting translation contest. It was a “Localization” contest, meaning that we were required to translate a videogame, this game in specific “The Republia Times” by Lucas Pope (if you want to play it you can find it here).

Now, I have always loved videogames, and I am a PhD Student in translation studies … I thought it was a very good chance to test this new field and have some feedback.

Today the results of the contest have been published, and as you might have guessed by the title of this post I didn’t win. Besides feeling a little bitter and disappointed (like any other loser participant), I took some time to explore the translation of the game done by other translators. My observations, from now on, are referring to the Italian translations only, since Italian is my native language and it was the category I entered. If you want to have a look to the work of the winners also for other languages you can find their translated works here, under contest results tab.

After playing the game using the translation of both “pro” and “amateur” winners I noticed that each work is extremely different from one another. More interestingly, I found that the winning translations are extremely distant from my own. It is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what I did differently, but they seem to come from different planets. No wonder I didn’t qualify.

After trying to understand how I managed to create such a “unique” but unsatisfactory translation, I realised that I underestimated the work ahead.

Firstly, I was startled by the format of the translation. I remember being really worried about having to translate into an Excel data sheet, with little or none formatting and with code bits dispersed in the source text (which were essential to be left untouched otherwise the game dynamics would have been compromised).

My experience in translation is mainly bound to the literary field, where I can manipulate the format of the text, if I feel the need for it. I can move sentences, phrases, words and whole paragraphs if I feel the translation would benefit from it.

Localization makes translators work within strict boundaries. Translating a string of text which is going to be displayed in the game in a tiny box, requires respecting of specific length limits, and therefore it does not allow much freedom. The solution is to find a creative solution which works along with these constraints.

Revising my work now, I can see how I often opted for a literal translation hoping to conform to the original source text, rather than pushing myself trying to find a creative alternative solution.  Shame on me, I should have known better.

In my defense, though, I think that my approach was determined by the attitude I have towards my literary source texts. Being novels, they have to be regarded as something to protect, it is important to preserve their core meaning and transpose their message into another language maintaining the style and the rhythm that the original author casted upon them.

The source text into a videogame is mainly functional to the progress of the game itself, and while it may be entertaining and useful, it is never the main component.

Secondly, I didn’t have the time for what I call “the cool down period” in which I make my translation rest. In all honesty, we were given a whole week to translate the game script and I can understand how someone could raise an eyebrow thinking a week should be more than enough to translate a short game like this. However, in reality, more time you have to disengage from your translation, better are the results you obtain.

In general coming back to a translation after few days allows me to read the translated text with a fresh approach, not conditioned by the English source text I was trying to convey. By doing so I can focus on the features of my translation, understand how well the narrative flows, but more importantly I can spot the flaws in my work, those glitches that might raise question marks in the mind of an Italian reader.

I tried to translate the game and let it rest, but when I came back to it my attention was (*sighs*) once again caught by the code errors I involuntarily created by missing a space or adding an extra one. In one word, my revising scrutiny of the translation was overwhelmed by the form and not by the substance.  It sounds naive, but it is the truth.

What more to add? I most certainly believe it was a good experience, an opportunity to learn more about myself and my attitude towards translation in different fields. I am positive I will try again if I will be given the chance, because even if this time I proved not to be a winner, this contest gave me the unique opportunity to plunge into something new and widen my knowledge about translation.


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